By Caroline Ryder
September 23, 2012
With her trademark cotton-candy pink hair and Harajuku-meets-skater-girl style, 27-year-old model, blogger and fashion designer Audrey Kitching has been turning heads since the mid-2000s, when she emerged as one of the rising crop of Hollywood Internet stars taking the underground by storm. They included androgynous (and even pinker-haired) singer Jeffree Star, hipster photographer Mark "the Cobra Snake" Hunter and club kid and model Cory Kennedy, all of whom were harnessing the Web to build their own DIY brands, growing their fame, page view by page view, via MySpace, Buzznet blogs and emerging social media.
Fast-forward to 2012, and it is Kitching — perhaps the least aggressive of the bunch — who looks poised to cross over into mainstream success. "Which is strange because I used to feel like the least mainstream of us," says Kitching, who has made worst-dressed lists in Cosmopolitan and Star magazines, among others. "Mainly because the press always treated me like I had five heads and was an alien."
But in the last three years, attitudes have changed, and she's viewed less as a wacky-haired club kid and more as a fashion-
forward meme queen. In the last 18 months, JCPenney has shot an online commercial starring Kitching, Kohl's hired her to promote its Vera Wang Princess Collection and PETA2 (the young adult arm of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) made Kitching, who is vegan, the face of a cruelty-free beauty campaign.
"I'm probably the smallest print model that has ever existed," says the 5-foot-4 Kitching. Yet she is booking international ad campaigns (for British shoe company Irregular Choice and Milan-based Kerol D. shoes), as well as editorials for magazines in Japan, Britain and Scandinavia. Her two clothing lines, Audrey Kitching Los Angeles and Coco de Coeur, have a backlog of orders she can barely keep up with. And there are TV offers on the table, from MTV, among others.
Kitching attributes her growing profile not just to hard work but also to a zeitgeist shift, one in which pop stars, led by a blue-haired Katy Perry, a pink-haired Nicki Minaj and a futuristic Lady Gaga, have made it OK to look weird again. This summer, even traditional blond beauties like Lauren Conrad, Dakota Fanning and Rachel McAdams experimented with pink ombre-style tips or peach pastel highlights. "Everyone was like, 'Aren't you mad that celebrities and models have pink hair now?'" says Kitching, who has been pink or variations thereof for seven years. "And I'm like, 'No, it has made my life so much easier!' I am no longer the weirdo in the room, because the entire industry has suddenly become more open to creativity."
Faran Krentcil, digital director of Nylon for five years and continuing contributor to the magazine, says she thinks Kitching's look is "fantastic, but her timing is even more impeccable. She started putting herself out there when the exact group of people who were inclined to think she was cool for being different were getting on the Internet. It was the perfect storm." Indeed, seven years ago, had you shown Krentcil photos of Minaj and Lady Gaga and told her that these were among the most famous people in the world, she said, "I would have thought you were kidding. But what's interesting about this generation that's coming up is that their boundaries of acceptance are a lot wider. A lot of schools have said you can't make fun of people just because they're different, and now you are seeing it in the mainstream, with shows like 'Glee,' where the whole message is that acceptance is cooler than anything else. Seems like today, it's all about being different and being yourself."
So it seems that Kitching (and her hair) are in just the right place at just the right time, so much so that she's having trouble keeping up with her fans' demands for all things Audrey. For instance, Coco de Coeur and Audrey Kitching Los Angeles, the clothing lines she founded on a whim with her roommate in 2010, are growing almost too fast for her to keep up. Visit the online stores for both lines and almost every item is listed as sold out.
Coco de Coeur is a punky, meme-heavy line of T-shirts decorated with cats in KISS eye makeup, kittens with batwings, kittens in general (her cat Waffle is a major design inspiration) and world-weary proclamations like "Wasted youth." Rocker Hayley Williams, singer for Paramore, is a big fan of the line — she wore a "Punk rock ruined me" Coco de Coeur tee to the Grammys.
Kitching's second line, Audrey Kitching Los Angeles (formerly Tokyolux), is a reflection of Kitching's ultra-girly side, merging the omnipresent kittens with cutesy rainbows, unicorns and My Little Pony and Sailor Moon motifs. "Growing up, I collected Barbies, ceramic unicorns and cat figurines, but I was also a skateboarder and a tomboy," Kitching says. "All my friends in high school were punks, and we would sleep at the skate park. I guess you could say I have a split personality." Her other design inspirations are 1970s all-girl rock band the Runaways (her friend Scout Taylor-Compton played Lita Ford in 2010's "The Runaways" biopic) and the Olsen twins. "If you see an Olsen twin out, it's like spotting a unicorn," she says.
Though hard to find online at present, the clothes are carried at Timeless in Los Angeles (7513 Melrose Ave.) and Beauty Is a Pain in Hollywood (1443 N. Highland Ave.).
When she launched the lines in 2010, Kitching's fans on Buzznet (3 million page views monthly), Facebook (104,000), Instagram (77,000) and Twitter (75,000) started posting photos of the clothes. The fashion kids on Tumblr started posting too, which caught the attention of trend analysts (who seem to spend all day watching what fashion kids on Tumblr are doing). The trend analysts told their fashion retail clients, and suddenly Kitching was inundated with store orders, around 500 in her first month, which she and her roommate had to produce and ship, all from their Hollywood apartment. "I never imagined that success could be a problem, but what with the events and the modeling and the blogging and now the fashion lines, it's been like overwhelming," says Kitching, who splits her time between New York and L.A. "Now I have a team that I work with, and we're working on scaling back, focusing and growing in a paced way."
For the next few months at least, Kitching will be focusing on building her fashion business in Japan. She shoots about four editorials a month for Japanese fashion magazines, and her designs are represented by one of Tokyo's top showrooms, which also represents leading L.A. streetwear line Joyrich. It's safe to say that based on chutzpah and pink hair alone, and without singing a note, Kitching is close to achieving the dream of every pop star — she's big in Japan. "Which is funny," she says, "because I've never even been there. Flying is one of the scariest things in the entire world to me, and 11 hours is a long flight, plus I'd miss Waffle. I'm trying to work up the courage."
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